The Food and Drug Administration is putting its money where its mandate is in order to improve food safety training across the country.
The agency recently awarded a $6.5 million grant to the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI) – located in Battle Creek, Michigan – to boost the Institute’s efforts to standardize food safety protocol across the country and make training more accessible to a greater number of professionals.
Enhancing food safety training is one of the changes required of FDA by the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law this January.
Over the next 5 years, FDA will give IFPTI $1.3 million per year to build a stronger infrastructure for training programs.
While this will help the Institute improve its own training courses – offered in Battle Creek, Macon, Georgia and Helena, Montana – it will also help IFPTI continue its work developing a standard training protocol for all programs around the country, including government and industry courses.
Smoothing out inconsistencies between training curricula is essential, says Gerald Wojtala, Executive Director of IFPTI. Standardized instruction means standardized practice, he explains.
“If a state inspector is doing an inspection in one state and a federal investigator’s doing an inspection in a different state and a local sanitarian is doing a different inspection in still a different state, we will know what level they’re performing at, and in that way we’ll have some assurance of the safety of food.”
This way, he says, the general public will have a way of gauging whether or not their food is being properly protected.
Improving the quality and consistency of food safety training is more important now than ever, he says.
In the current tight economy, “A lot of those professions are hurting in terms of a loss of positions,” says Wojtala, “so that makes training all the more important because as they downsize, more people are taking on more responsibility.”
This means that someone who at one time was only in charge of water sanitation might now be performing food inspections as well, and will need to be prepared for this position.
“There’s a lot of folks that get into this profession who obviously have science degrees or backgrounds, but you don’t go to college and take a course in being a dairy inspector or shellfish inspector,” he explains.
Another component of IFTPI’s work is tailoring food safety education to fit the variety of different jobs that affect the safety of the food supply – including food inspectors, veterinarians, quality managers at processing companies, and over 40 other professions.
The organization is currently examining the different food safety-related tasks required for each job in order to recommend food safety curricula for training someone in each of these positions.
While it is important to have a consistent base knowledge of food safety across the board, says Wojtala, people also need specific expertise depending on their food safety responsibilities.
Another way IFPTI – designed courses vary is in the way they are taught. Parts of a course may be taken individually online, and parts involve in-person exercises.
But in order to get any of these courses out to the people who need them, the country needs more people who can give this training, says Wajtola. That’s why IFTPI will also be using its federal grant to augment its trainer certification program.
“If we’re going to train all these people, we really have to bump up the number of instructors out there,” says Joan Bowman, IFTPI’s Vice President of External Affairs.
And IFPTI won’t be going it alone.
“FDA has make a commitment to training, and so there are a number of other universities and associations that are going to be partnering with us and fleshing out this training network,” says Wajtola.
To date, IFPTI has trained more than 1,800 professionals through its food safety courses. With its expanded resources, it hopes to increase the number of people it reaches, as well as to boost the availability of training around the country by equipping other companies and organizations with the ability to train their employees and members.